China seeks to expand its sovereignty in the South China Sea

Richard Fernandez:
The Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, which has been following the construction of Chinese fortifications in the waters west of Palawan, recently caused a mild stir by publishing photographs of strange hexagonal structures and towers on Subi, Fiery Cross and Mischief reefs. The unfamiliar nature of these items obscured a more salient fact, which has alarmed even the New York Times: China has been turning a vast expanse of water into a fortified island zone on a scale unseen since World War 2. "China has been feverishly piling sand onto reefs in the South China Sea, creating seven new islets in the region and straining already taut geopolitical tensions. "
Imagery from January compiled for a recent report by the C.S.I.S. suggests that China may be constructing a longer-range high-frequency radar installation on Cuarteron Reef that would help the country monitor air and ship traffic in the south, farther from the Chinese mainland.

Fiery Cross Reef is one of China's most strategically important new islands, with an airstrip that is long enough to allow the country to land any plane, from fighter jets to large transport aircraft.
The overhead imagery showed impressive facilities. Fiery Cross for example boasted a 3000m airstrip, a harbor large enough to receive tankers and major surface combatants, 10 piers, air defense batteries, helipads, satcom facilities bunkers and buildings built on 667 acres of reclaimed land. Mischief Reef had besides an airstrip, 9 piers, satcom facilities and an access channel into its interior lagoon on 1,378 acres of reclaimed land. Subi, built on a 1,000 acres of reclamation, was potentially developing a 3000m airstrip, 11 piers, a 230 meter wide access channel into its inner lagoon and numerous other structures.

Yet massive though these installations were they were known quantities. It was the mystery objects which attracted the most press attention: hexagonal buildings and towers of no known purpose. AMTI wrote:
In addition to the rapid construction of hangars and other air support infrastructure at Fiery Cross, Subi, and Mischief reefs, other facilities have appeared on the features in recent months. Unidentified hexagonal structures are quickly being built at four locations on each islet—always oriented toward the sea. Work on these structures began in May at Fiery Cross and in July at Subi and Mischief. Each of the features is also now home to a set of three towers, one of which is larger than the other two. The towers do not have domes that would indicate radar or other sensitive arrays, and their location is not consistent, at least in relation to the runway or other infrastructure, across the three islets. These structures do not appear at any of China’s other outposts in the Paracels or Spratlys.
There is much more.

The island fortifications look vulnerable to attacks from missiles launched from the air or from underwater.  It is likely that the structures talked about are to deal with that threat and are likely part of some missile defense effort.


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